This series is telling the story of Louisa Matilda Fagan (née Ballard) (1850-1931), born in Italy of an American father and an Italian mother who, nonetheless, was given in the censuses as a "British Subject", probably on account of her marriage in 1872 to a Captain in the Bombay Lancers: Joseph George Fagan (c.1843-1908). As for his place in this series - his time will come.
In the previous, introductory, episode we cropped her (seated to the right) from this group photograph taken at the Craigside (Llandudno) Chess Congess in 1898 where she came first in the Second Class Tournament.
The BCM of 1897 commented that she had "early learnt the moves of the game" (maybe along with her brother?) when the family was in Italy. She appears in the UK 1861 census (now age 11) in a boarding school in Malvern - her brother, William Roberts Ballard Junior, is shown at the family address in Marylebone, along with a full complement of servants. Perhaps it's more likely that she would have learnt the game sometime in the next ten years up to her marriage in 1872. By then her brother, older by almost three years and now in his mid-twenties - a "strong and brilliant player" (BCM 1897) - was already mixing with the chess elite, as we know from the last episode; she, however, was nowhere to be seen.
She married her Cavalryman on 8 July 1872 - she was now 22 and he seven years older. She would have gone pretty much straightaway with her new husband, a serving soldier, to his posting in India - indeed there is a record of a sailing to Bombay from Naples of a Captain and Mrs Fagan on 16 September 1872. The newlyweds must have gone via Italy to visit relations and receive their blessing. Now at last she appears in the chess record - though you may not have guessed it at the time.
Her documented entrance into the public chess arena came as a problem composer: in the City of London Chess Magazine of 1875 (pp 171, 236 and 338) under the pseudonym of "Dessa (a lady)": here is one of them, judged at the time by one commentator (H.J.C.Andrews) to be "neat and rather pretty".
|Reproduced from the City of London Chess Magazine September 1875 p 236|
Problem No 184, set by Deesa (a lady): Mate in 3.
(Solution in Notes)
Her other documented chess adventure in India was in 1882 when she won a small local tournament - organised alongside the polo, bowls, tennis, golf, etc., - as part of the Bombay Gymkhana Club annual sports fest. The story is told in the BCM in 1897 with additions in her 1931 BCM obituary (and see notes) all in such detail as could only have originated from her, possibly via her brother: there is no public report of it in the Times of India (published in Bombay) other than the announcement (February 27 1882) that "gentlemen anxious to compete will kindly send their names to the Hon. Sec. Chess by 4th March".
The accounts say that Mrs Fagan, overcoming resistance to her participation (men only!) and though not permitted to play on the premises, won all her games: "her opponents, realising what an excellent player she was", chivalrously gave her a souvenir album of signed photos of themselves. This makes a good story, well-told and embellished in the re-telling (see Notes), rather than documentation of a chess event of great moment.
|Not watching the chess at the Bombay Gymkhana |
(a bit later than the 1880s - from here)
We don't pick her up again in the chess record until 1895 (at least: that is according to my searches - this caveat must of course be applied throughout the series). She was busy in that summer, firstly with a LCC tournament won by Mrs Buckton after which - according to the Morning Post of 5 August 1895 (chess editor Antony Guest) - Mrs Fagan drew in a 10-board simul by Antony Guest himself, on 29 July (his column was consistent in reporting LCC activities; as was the Pall Mall Gazette). Then she played in Section A of a Ladies' Tournament (kicking off 27 August) alongside the Hastings International. It was won by Lady Thomas. According to Rhoda Bowles, another leading chess lady, writing a survey of recent ladies' chess in the "Ladies Pages" of the Chess Amateur in October 1906, Mrs Fagan had been awarded an encouraging consolation prize in the tournament. Antony Guest also picked her out (along with Miss Finn and Lady Thomas) for note: as playing some "meritorious" games (MPost 28 August).
In 1896 she was continuing to make her mark. She was the sole winner at Van Vliet's 18 board simul at the LCC in January, and at Tinsley's 21 board effort in March (London Daily News 14 Jan, and Batgirl blog), and was climbing up the LCC order to win on board 2 (v Leytonstone CC in February), and board 3 "in creditable style" (v Metropolitan CC in March). She won the LCC championship tournament in the summer, so as to claim her place on board 1 - sadly losing there to the Rev. Jowitt of St.George's CC in November (respectively: MPost 10 Feb., 16 March, and 30 November).
On now to 1897, her annus mirabilis - and a pretty good one for checking her performance, too: I have found 21 reports of LCC matches in the chess columns and chess press where Mrs Fagan is identified by name: this includes 15 from LCC matches in the 'C' Division in the London League, the others were friendlies. She is reported playing on board 1 in all but one (when club dignatory Lady Thomas was accorded that honour - she lost - in a 25-board friendly against Met CC's C team - Pall Mall Gazette 1 March).
Mrs Fagan's London League results were +8 =2 -3 (leaving aside a default win, and an unreported adjudication). Of one League loss it was said that "opening with a spirited Evans Gambit [Mrs Fagan], had a promising position at the start, but an error of judgment finally lost the game at the call of time." (Pall Mall Gazette 23 March 1897, 0-1 v Mr. Simkins of St. Martin's). Overall, including friendlies, the tally was +11 =5 -3. She was fond of the Evans and we'll give a game of hers with it later.
One of the League victories is the most widely-known of her few recorded games: her demolition of G.W. Richmond in the London League using the Alekhine-Chatard Attack in the French: she played a "forward game" (a term employed by the BCM on another occasion). George William Richmond (1877-1941) was no rabbit (although young enough to be her son), and was to become Scottish champion three years later in 1900.
Alan McGowan's helpful notes on him - from which the above photo is extracted, with thanks - on the excellent Scottish Chess site quotes the BCM of 1907 which says that he was by then a member of Insurance CC. In the game, on 26 April 1897, Richmond was then playing for the Birkbeck Institute. Mrs Fagan played in "good attacking style" (Pall Mall Gazette 11 May), but although she won, Birkbeck took the match 5.5 v 2.5 - and "C" Division that season. Here is the game with Pall Mall's notes.
... as is this illustration from the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press 10 July, which must be outlined from a photograph so as to enable reproduction in simple black and white.
In the "International Tournament" "Signorina Fagan" claimed the Italian flag in view of her country of birth, which raised a few eyebrows and provoked grumbles about flags of convenience, window dressing, etc. But the BCM came to her (and the tournament's) defence. In its extensive report (August 1897 pp 285 to 296) it rightly pointed out that although she was now in England, she had "lived for years in Italy" (well, yes: and possibly for as long in India). She felt obliged to clarify the nationality point again herself several years later, in 1905.
While we are on portraiture: at the head of its report of the tournament the BCM provided this lovely photograph of our subject.
Here is her published win against Miss Bonnefin, who - to continue in cricketing vein - was pretty much yorked at the crease in the first over.
The BCM gave also a fragment from the Signorina's Evans Gambit win over Miss Gooding, the game that we will give in full later. And so - after noting that Mrs Fagan beat Bird in a simul early that year at the Ladies Club (MPost 5 April) - we call time at the end of 1897 and adjourn: to resume the chess in the next episode.
For excellent accounts of the International Ladies Tournament of 1897 see Tim Harding (here and here) and "Batgirl" aka Sarah Beth (good for photos), and see also the page on EDO. For another illustration of the Ladies Tournament see an article, in Italian, by Francesco Gibellato giving an overview of Mrs Fagan's chess career: it is linked in the middle of this page on the Ken Whyld Society's (chess history) website.
The details of the Bombay Gymkhana Chess tournament in 1882 are supplemented in Indian Chess History by Manual Aaron and Vijay D Pandit (2014) pp129-130 "She was the only female in a 12-player chess tournament in Bombay. Best of three, knockout matches were held. When the last three were reached, they played three-game matches against each other. Fagan won all her games, but was disqualified because she was a woman player in a club whose membership was confined to men. She appealed this decision in court and won. The names of the other players are not known." Do they really mean "in court"?
Solution to Deesa problem: "1. Kt to R6. K takes P. 2. Kt to Kt 8 and mates next move."
Part 1. Waltzing Matilda Part 3. Mrs. Fagan's Game Resumed
Part 4. Mrs Fagan's Family Part 5. Mrs Fagan's Politics Part 6. Another Mrs Fagan...and Her Politics. Part 7...And the Final "Mrs Fagan"
For all chess history posts in a previous incarnation go to the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog History Index.